Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chapter Fifteen

"The Meeting"

In the tony restaurant, as large as a stage set, Boss Eggers sees the Madman in the Black Hat, and smirks. The crazed literary bigwig sits in a corner near a window, barricaded by tables and plants, with a black veil attached to his broad-brimmed hat covering the upper part of his face. It makes him look like a comic book bad guy. Is it done for effec, to frighten his associates, Eggers wonders? Or a sign of the man's insanity?

"Let's proceed," Eggers says to his silent African sidekick.

Walking very straight, they navigate through the glossy tables and seat themselves with the plutocratic lunatic.

A waitress appears instantly.

"Anything to drink?"

"Get me your best beer, your best salad, best steak, rare, buried in onions, then your largest, most expensive dessert. The best of everything! And the same for him," Eggers says, pointing to his friend and dismissing the waitress in one easy gesture. The young woman, tall, with auburn bangs and clunky eyeglasses, and a white blouse, stares, smirks, grimaces, glares, then leaves and returns a moment later with their glistening beers. The Madman across from them is carefully sipping from a crystal goblet of bloodless wine.

"Who's behind you?" the gang boss throws at him.

A low voice creeps from beneath the veil.

"Who? Who indeed? Bankers? Money? The System? The Establishment? My father? My wife? Anyone? It's all paranoia. Maybe the CIA-- but what is that? A repository for a particular mindset, just as the ULA is a coalescence of a particular anarchist mindset-- or was, until I touched a button and destroyed it. What was the CIA? It also no longer exists. I'll say they were Eastern Establishment liberal Cold Warriors, well-educated, Yale mostly, with a yen for poetry."

"What did they want?" Eggers asks.

"Oh: victory. World domination. It was a class thing. One can't say they-- we-- are any longer bent on it, because we've 98% achieved it."

"Conspiracy theories," Boss Eggers sneers.

"No, no conspiracy. Public fact, visible for all to see."

The gang boss moves closer across the table, edging forward the man's wine glass, and his plate of alfalfa, asparagus, and beets, crowding his space.

"So is your class backing my rivals here in New York, the Negativity Plus people? Where do they get their money?"

"Rivals? Hardly. Partners, if anything. A different branch on the same tree. From what I hear they've retreated from literature-- into philosophy. The arcane teachings of an intentionally useless philosophy."

"So you're telling me--"

"I'm not telling you anything!" the madman exclaims.

He's become red-faced. At the same time beneath the veil appears a secretive smile. His head shakes, a mad spectre of black and red. It occurs to the crude gangland boss, who believes in nothing save his own enrichment, that before him sits the embodiment of evil. The man's face is so red it appears to be a shaft of burning fire, behind a black veil beneath a black hat. Yet the plutocrat keeps smiling. Insanely. Involuntarily the boss backs away.

The waitress drops their salads and steaks with a loud clunk onto the table. She knows the arrogant newcomer will tip lavishly regardless to impress the masked man, who eats here often and never tips anything.

Boss Eggers uses the sharp knife provided to cut his steak multiple times into tiny pieces. He watches the blood rush over the plate. He's wondering if he's underestimated this guy. Eggers has given him all the space in his publications he could want, has promoted his friends-- Britishers and bluebloods-- had thought he was humoring him, but now wonders, who is using whom?

Why the veil? Is the man a mutant who needs to shield his eyes? One of the High Priests! The Priests believe themselves to have special powers. Eggers knows how they view themselves, as part of a special Order, a club whose entry is gained through birth and indoctrination. Even he, all-powerful Boss Eggers, isn't good enough to be one of them.

But many times the caste's magic has failed. Such as, their failure-- even Plimpton's failure! Pimpernel Plimpton himself-- against the literary revolutionaries. He sees an opening.

"You say the rebels are destroyed," he tells the man. "Yet I've obtained this very day, through my planted sources, a message purporting to be from their former leader."

He snaps his fingers. His African companion produces from beneath his dashiki a glowing orange sheet of paper, the word "MANIFESTO" in large handwritten black letters across the top of the page. Eggers pushes aside his empty plates, grabs the paper and begins to read. . . .